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Is Ron DeSantis’s Rush to Homophobia a Winning GOP Strategy in 2024?

Is Ron DeSantis’s Rush to Homophobia a Winning GOP Strategy in 2024?

Ron DeSantis

Is this how the 2024 Republican nomination for president will be decided?

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at one point seemed to represent a new generation of Republican leadership.

During his first year as Governor of Florida, he visited the Pulse memorial and told gay lawmakers like Carlos Guillermo Smith and shooting survivors they would “have no problem” with his governance of LGBTQ+ issues, whatever other differences they had. Yet as he runs for president, DeSantis has rapidly built up a robust anti-LGBTQ record, including signing a bathroom segregation bill into law.

He’s also restricted access to trans health care, threatened business licenses for venues allowing minors into drag performances, and enacted an infamous “don’t say gay” law that forbids classroom instruction about gender identity and sexual orientation.

As DeSantis ramps up homophobic rhetoric in his quest for the GOP nomination, he’s now attacked Trump for, of all things, promising in 2016 to protect LGBTQ+ Americans from terrorist attacks like the Pulse shooting. A video distributed by the DeSantis campaign attacks Donald Trump for allowing transgender contestants into beauty pageants and allowing Caitlin Jenner into the women’s room at Trump Tower. Moreover, it revels in the scorn from the LGBTQ community that DeSantis has drawn the past two years.

Nearly a decade after the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed marriage equality, the rush to the far right raises a shocking question. Is this how the 2024 Republican nomination for president will be decided?

The latest video promoted by the DeSantis team seems to have unleashed a public debate on the right over whether homophobia remains a value to which conservatives must cling.

“I spent the last 7 years of my life working with Trump to make the GOP a more welcoming place for gays WHILE ALSO being anti-groomer, anti-woke and pro religious liberty,” tweeted out conservative activist David Leatherman. “I’ve even worked WITH DeSantis on this agenda. This ad is a slap in the face, and makes any LGBT person supporting DeSantis look like an absolute idiot.”

Of note, the ad was originally distributed by the Twitter account @ProudElephantUS, an unabashedly pro-DeSantis account that in recent days attacked actor Christopher Moltisanti for criticizing a Supreme Court decision allowing service providers to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people.

The post releasing the video makes clear a desire for DeSantis to attack LGBTQ+ people on all matters.

“The left FEARS Ron DeSantis because he actually follows through with his promises,” reads the post with the controversial video. “He will destroy WOKE ideology and stop the groomers right in their tracks. Why settle for Trump when we can have a much MORE conservative and much MORE electable candidate in Ron DeSantis?”

Other conservative consultants make clear they badly want to make limits on LGBTQ+ rights a central plank of the presidential election. Spence Rogers of Go Right Strategies tweeted a wish list of anti-queer policies he wants the GOP to champion.

“The fight is over who will stop the grooming by fixing it at the source,” he posted. “-Bring back traditional marriage -Repeal no fault divorce -Bring Christ back in school

-Ban gay adoption -Ban drag queen story hour -Ban grooming in schools -Death penalty for pedos -Ban corporate grooming”

But other Republicans see room for tolerance of queer rights — to an extent. Rod Thomson, a Republican communications consultant in Florida, said there needs to be a delineation between gay and lesbian rights and what he sees as a “trans agenda.”

“LG is one thing and big tent for the GOP,” he posted on Twitter. “But T has become atrocious, preying on children and parents, and must be stopped. I know a lot of gay Republicans, and every one is opposed to the trans agenda, which it sounds like you are. So let's not lose sight of the ultimate goal.”

Even some of the targets of the ad like Jenner have come out against allowing trans women in women’s sports, even defending a law DeSantis signed in Florida. But Jenner, who is supporting Trump, felt the video distributed by the campaign went too far.

“DeSantis has hit a new low. But he’s so desperate he’ll do anything to get ahead - that’s been the theme of his campaign,” she tweeted. “You can’t win a general, let alone 2028 by going after people that are integral parts of the conservative movement!”

Trump, of note, has boasted about how much traction he found attacking transgender people this year. But supporters have stressed he won the White House in a 2016 upset in part by growing the GOP coalition.

Some LGBTQ allies of DeSantis questioned parts of the recent video but stuck by the candidate overall. Gays Against Groomers founder Jaimee Michell put up an extensive post weighing the pros (slamming Trump’s record on trans bathroom access) and cons (attacking trans conservative Lady MAGA’s mere existence) of the messaging strategy.

“I do think this video is a bit of a slap in the face to myself and other rational gays who not only don’t have a home on the left due to the democrats’ destructive policies, but who have worked hard to show that the Republican Party is for everyone. I also don’t believe this video is attacking us directly,” Michell posted.

“Overall as a right wing lesbian, do I love the video? No, I don’t. Do I understand why they put it out? Mhm. Do I think it will alienate younger voters? Yes, but I’m not sure if that matters right now. Caving to and appeasing them is how we have become the party of losers that we are today. Am I a single issue voter that will now overlook all Trump’s failures and baggage and run back to him over it? Also no. I’m still voting for the only Republican that can beat Biden in the general, and has done more than any politician to eviscerate the left’s agenda during his time in office.”

But many gay Republicans now wonder if the DeSantis strategy attacking all things Pride will damage the entire GOP brand.

“Team DeSantis is now using gays and lesbians as a wedge issue to divide the Republican Party,” Leatherman wrote. “And smearing Trump for being the most pro gay Republican in history. Apparently it’s no longer about protecting children, it’s going after gays.”

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